Pictures at an exhibition - Tribute to Classical Music and Heavy Metal

I have often heard that Classical music has had two great sons, Jazz and Heavy metal, and perhaps that is why I am deeply attached to all three genres. My love for classical music perhaps dates back to my childhood (literally consumed the CD and VHS of Walt Disney's Fantasia) and was further fueled in middle school with a "crazy" (positively speaking) music teacher: where in fact other schools aimed to assemble a boring flute essay made of compositions like Hymns to Joy and te Deum ours, with that damn flute, the teacher made us play Strauss, Wagner, Brahms and Grieg (good stuff, isn't it?)... and I think that right then I began to assemble my first compilations, building improbable concepts by putting the most famous pieces of the most loved composers together. What I would like to do with you is a trip to some of these works, also looking at the effect they would have in the world of Rock and Heavy metal.


The Russian composer Mussorgsky goes to a commemorative painting exhibition of his friend Viktor Hartmann, who died prematurely: the visit arouses such emotion in him that he decides to dedicate a suite to it, a sort of concept album linked to the impressions arising from the sight of the canvases. Thus was born "Pictures at an exhibition", a symphonic instrumental work consisting of 10 movements (one for each picture), with different progression, rhythm and atmospheres depending on the subject, and 5 interludes or walks (the Promenade), the latter represent the act of moving from one canvas or from one room to another. The dreaming tune of the Promenade is thus alternated with the dark gait of "The Gnome", the elegy of "The Old Castle", up to the wickedness of "Baba Yaga", finding the worthy epic and solemn ending in the "Great Portal of Kiev" which beautifully closes a work that well represents the ideal bridge between visual and auditory art. 


In 1997 Mekong Delta, a talented and underrated German band, created an electric transposition of the Pictures at an exhibition suite, replacing the classical instruments with guitars and drums; the result is certainly suggestive, but the use of these instruments nevertheless makes the listening rather flat and lacks the warmth that inevitably comes from a large orchestra. 

Emerson Lake & Palmer (1971) 
Just 50 years ago this supergroup released an unusual live album (with one of the most beautiful covers in music history, as showed at the beginning of the article): the revival with guitars, Hammond organ and drums, as part of the themes of the Mussorgsky suite, interspersed with some improvisations and unpublished works specially written and inserted within the work in a perfectly harmonious way; but the magic does not end there, because the band decided to insert some singing parts also in the musical themes of the Russian composer, further enriching the performance. For example, try to listen to "The Great Gate of Kiev" and tell me if the sung parts don't suit perfectly (and what a thrill at the ending). I would like to add that later they will carry out a reduced version of the project in the studio (about 15 minutes long), also very fascinating and useful as a summary to understand the magnitude of the operation carried out by these gentlemen. 

Having said that, and apologizing for the length of the post, I definitely recommend you these three records! 
Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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